My husband, Darrin, and I are a classic case of opposites attracting. We are aligned in our faith and core values and in our commitment to and love for each other and our children. We have some common interests, and our life together includes a lot of fun and laughter.

In general, though, we’re wired very differently. The ways in which we approach life often lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. Much of the time, we’re profoundly grateful for God’s design in our union. Our respective strengths and weaknesses create a helpful and beautiful balance. We don’t have far to go to find an opinion or perspective that will likely be quite different from our own. We’re less likely to excuse one another’s sins and weaknesses. The flip side of the coin, however, is that we also have to work really hard to understand, accept, and appreciate the differences in each other. Frankly, learning to do this has been significantly more difficult than we expected. 

As an engaged couple, we received plenty of general encouragement along the lines of “marriage is really hard.” We appreciated the mostly good intentions behind this admonition and were thankful for the advice. Living in covenant with another sinful, imperfect human being is messy and, while full of many beautiful moments, is not a constant fairy tale. Whether you and your spouse are opposites like us, or you find yourself married to someone very similar to you, no married person lives in a difficulty-free union. It was helpful to be aware of this truth before actually experiencing it, and to know that struggling was normal. 

Embrace Their Differences

However, knowing that marriage can be hard and knowing how to practically and specifically love well in the nitty gritty day-to-day are two different things. In our case, this has often meant struggling to understand the perspective and actions of each other in situations where our differences make unity a challenge. We’ve always taken our marriage covenant seriously and know we’re committed to each other and to God for life. We aren’t looking for a way out. We also want more than a “business partner” relationship, or to give into the temptation to let bitterness and anger grow and drive a wedge between us. We truly desire a marriage where we honor and enjoy one another’s differences as gifts from God. Over the years we’ve definitely found that the hard work that helps us appreciate and enjoy one another more is usually practical and specific. We’re learning to approach our moments of tension and irritation with each other as God-ordained opportunities to build a stronger marriage. In light of that goal, there are a couple steps of repentance and action we try to practice regularly.

Confess the struggle to God. It seems this simple first step is the one we most try to avoid. It’s easier to complain to or about our spouse than to admit our discontentment to God. We may just try to fix our outward behavior toward our spouse without really addressing the deeper heart issues under the surface. It’s uncomfortable and humbling to say, “I just really don’t like my husband at all today” or, “My marriage doesn’t feel like a gift right now.” I want to love my husband well, but pretending I’m further along in this than I am doesn’t produce transformation in me. And I certainly can’t respond to my husband with humility if I’m unwilling to humble myself before God and admit I need help. Our gracious and merciful God knows how needy and helpless we are. We can confess our sin and struggle and receive mercy and grace to help in our time of need. 

Differentiate between personality differences, preferences, and sin. In terms of personality I tend to be slower to react, methodical, and cautious. I like to think through things thoroughly before making a decision. Sometimes, this is wise and serves our family well. Partnered with my spiritual gifts, my desire and willingness to “see how things develop” can be an asset. Other times, though, when my primary motivation is fear, my caution and failure to act can be sinful and destructive for myself and those around me. 

Part of Darrin’s calling as my husband is to help me discern what’s going on in my heart. At times he’d definitely prefer that I be as eager to “jump” as he is, and that I’d just naturally act a bit more quickly. It would be easy for him to demand I be more like him and fail to honor this part of how God has wired me. On the other hand, it would also be easy for him to never confront my sinful tendency to act cautiously out of fear. In order to love me well, then, he has to be prayerful and discerning, asking good questions and confronting my sin when necessary. He may not always get it exactly right, but he’s committed to my spiritual growth and to the process of honoring the way God has made me.

The reality that our spouses don’t always respond the way we would or prefer what we’d choose doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong or in sin. That said, differences in personality and preferences do not excuse sinful behavior. So if we are to grow in our love and appreciation for our spouse, we must be committed to acknowledging and helping each other with these distinctions.

Pursue Enjoyment of Your Spouse

On our wedding day, as we were leaving for our honeymoon, my dad waved goodbye and said, “Enjoy each other!” That simple encouraging statement has stuck with me through the years. While I may not always naturally be able to appreciate all the ways Darrin is different from me, I can commit myself to the daily process of choosing to be grateful and appreciative for him and to him.

I am blessed to have a husband who is wonderful in many ways that I can choose to remember and enjoy every day. I can ask God to open my eyes to the good things I don’t easily see. I can allow God to deepen my love for my husband as I pray for him. And I can choose to enjoy the person God has made Darrin to be, believing the truth that my husband, while imperfect, is a gift from God that I get to keep discovering, moment by moment, year after year. That reality is bigger and more powerful than any obstacle our “differences” might appear to put between us. 

Editors’ note: Register to hear Amie Patrick address the topic of “Eating, Body Image, and the Gospel” [read article] in a workshop at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando.